Boycott culture: more reactive than effective

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Photo by Abby Thorpe

In February, The University News published “The Implications of Starbucks at UD.” In the article, the author decried the introduction of Starbucks coffee to the Haggar Cafe because of the company’s direct contributions to Planned Parenthood and urged the university to exercise more moral judgement in their choice of vendors. 

Boycotting big companies that donate to Planned Parenthood is probably familiar to many students at the University of Dallas. In my family, it was referred to as “the list,” and would come up frequently on family outings that included eating out. This type of language is familiar to any Twitter user or internet denizen of today: the call to cancel. 

This phenomenon, called “cancel culture,” is well discussed, often with skepticism, in the UD student body, as it is seen primarily as a liberal phenomenon. 

A frequent critique of cancel culture is its mob mentality, both in its furor and unequal choice of targets. As with all things on the internet, the reason or principle behind the boycott is frequently lost, as a single example is selected by popular opinion.

Similarly to “the list” my family used, people will refer to corporations or people who have been “cancelled” to signal that they are “woke,” or in the know of popular opinion, usually in a left leaning sense. 

While useful as a social accountability system, this kind of virtue signaling done in a public sphere like social media often loses its principle and simply becomes a way of identifying oneself with a cause, to the detriment of any conversation or change that was originally intended.

While I would applaud the author’s call to attention on more carefully considered business decisions by the university, looking a little to the left would have revealed that Starbucks was far from the only product or policy that might benefit from more scrutiny at UD. 

A brief glance at the Family Counsel’s list of direct contributors to Planned Parenthood include other vendors whose products are all over UD, including Frito-Lay, Microsoft, PayPal (owner of Venmo), PepsiCo, Shell (PDK’s gas vendor) and even the beloved Ben & Jerry’s.

While the list of these canceled companies grows, one might duly find avoiding them all an onerous and impossible task. This financial disengagement necessarily causes a social disengagement as well, as one must avoid any supporting places of business as well. 

Stating that “the pro-life movement will never progress” by supporting any companies on the Family Council’s list highlights the problem. A consistent life ethic is not generated by removing access to abortion or even contraceptives, or probably even convincing most people that these are wrong, but by convincing them that life without these is better. 

How does this look on a more proximate level?

In what I frequently cite as one of those times I realized that adults are only human, a particularly close religious education teacher shared a story as an example of not participating in evil. 

She owned a few rental houses and was once approached by a tenant who asked her if she would be comfortable renting to lesbian couple, to which she immediately replied that that would not be an option.

As she related this story with a sense of triumph, I could not understand how this woman who had taught me in soup kitchens to “see Jesus in every person” could so coldy deny an opportunity to witness the gospel, and then brag about it. She may have avoided financial support of immorality, but at the cost of never allowing the opportunity to offer fellowship. 

I don’t mean to suggest that the author of the article addressing Starbucks wouldn’t seek to encounter people on a real level. However, the rhetoric of her article reinforces an emphasis on disengagement from those who disagree that finds a head in “cancel culture.”

I certainly agree with her call to put more effort into making decisions that “align with UD’s morals,” but I don’t think the specific call to action will affect the change we wish to see. 

We should be seeking more proximate people and decisions that witness our beliefs. Policies at UD that affect people we encounter in our present community should be examined first.

For example, when advising staff on returning to work after the campus was shut down, the University’s “Return to On-Campus Work” frequently asked questions on the website answered “I can’t find childcare for my children. What are my options?” by referring parents to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services page.

Positive action to assist staff with childcare seems plausible to implement when so many students would be willing to babysit as work study or even volunteer. 

The university demonstrated its commitment to supporting mothers when providing protection to pregnant women in the new sex policy, but as pointed in last week’s “Letter to the editor: sex policy misses opportunity to discuss,” there was a missed opportunity to change minds by coupling the new policy with Theology of the Body talks or some similar programming. 

The process of changing minds and hearts, while much more difficult to solve than not buying coffee, would affect more change than the smug “cancellation” of an overpriced coffee chain. Our energy would be more effectively and charitably spent by focusing on the persons we wish to help, rather than negative participation in “cancel culture.”

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